It’s been over 18-months — an eternity in computer years — since I shared my initial post about Apple and the direction they’ve gone since Steve Jobs died in 2011. Given the product update delivered by the company earlier this week, I thought I’d share my experience and thoughts since then.
- After a lot of market research, checking with friends and family about their mobile device experience, and soul-searching on our part — we’ve decided to keep our iOS devices. They are a lot harder to part with than I initially thought, but we’ve nearly finished getting rid of all the rest of the Apple gear that we once owned. Why are the iPhones and iPads so much harder to part with? For one thing, both of us have favorite apps that simply have no alternative on other mobile platforms; for another (and this is particularly true of mobile handhelds) — they simply work.
- I have had a soft spot for Apple ever since the first time I clapped eyes on one in design school, almost four decades ago. I’ve always rooted for them, but feel that they’re losing their creative edge (again) and are stagnating as a company (again) — almost like the period just before their long decline of 1991-1997.
- I’m an IT guy. I’ve worked with Apple products both personally and professionally since 1981, and I’ve dealt with literally thousands of Macs during my career — especially in the enterprise environment. So if you want to flame me in the comments section, go ahead (heh, I’ve already got my Nomex suit close at hand…) — but you had better be ready to back any of your own claims with the same degree of empirical knowledge. Also, keep it clean and no trolling; if the comments descend to the point of being uncivil and/or harrassing, the offending content will be purged, and the commenting author will be permanently banned from this site.
It’s been five long years since Steve Jobs died… and what has Apple done since then? Well, they still have yet to come out with any “insanely great” new products since his passing — and no, the Apple Watch doesn’t count. Sorry.
Instead, it’s been more like business-as-usual… with their established product lines (both hardware and software) having incremental tweaks and upgrades applied to them each year in succession. Here is a bullet summary of the current Apple product line, starting with their hardware first:
- The MacBook Air, which must be replaced early and often due to its anemic performance. Truly — if you by one of these — their performance envelope is measured in months… not years.
- The MacBook, which is placed between the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro in performance, though it shares many of the same shortcomings of the MacBook Air because it’s even more compact than its slightly larger (and older) sibling. I know that Apple has an obsession with all things light and thin, but performance and battery life are the first things to go when they get this slender. Why? Heat dissipation for one (heat is death to electronic components) and lack of internal space within the device — which limits the size of the battery, ability to dump heat, etc. Ever since laptops hit the mainstream back in the late 1980’s, designers have had to juggle with heat, energy storage, and performance — a mix that doesn’t always work out in real-life as intended.
- The MacBook Pro, which hasn’t seen a serious refresh in a very long time. To put this in perspective, the 2012 MacBook Pro I have at home still has similar performance to the new models, even though it’s over four years old at this writing. Of the three laptop families that Apple offers, the MacBook Pro delivers the biggest bang for the buck, though it’s quite pricey for what you get. That said, we revolted against paying the Apple tax with our last laptop replacements and got better performing Windows machines at a fraction of the price. However, I have kept one old Mac laptop to use for producing my annual calendars to friends and family, as I am still searching for a service in the Windows world that can do it as nicely as Apple does. But when that old MacBook Pro finally bites the dust (and it eventually will), I won’t replace it with another prohibitively expensive Mac.
- The iMac, an all-in-one that represents the best value of their desktop line; available in a number of variations to suit your taste and budget. Want a fast Mac to do your post-processing on your photos? This is the biggest bang for your buck in the Apple world (read more from Lloyd Chambers at his diglloyd website here). The iMac also the most wasteful desktop that Apple offers, as the monitor cannot be separated from the CPU when you simply need a processor refresh in a few years, so you have to
thrower… recycle the entire thing away. Yes, other vendors make these all-in-one machines as well — but given that Apple likes to claim that they lead the computing industry in responsible manufacturing, I expect better solutions from them.
- The Mac Pro, a costly high-end box with no serious expansion capabilities. Yes, I’m aware that you can plug all sorts of crap into it via the USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt ports, but that doesn’t begin to match the expansion capabilities of the old Mac Pro, where everything was internalized and connected directly to the motherboard. And the newer Mac Pro can’t even begin to play with the really powerful computers from the competition out there, some of which can mount 256GB RAM or more, and that’s just for starters (the Mac Pro can only mount a maximum of 64GB RAM). Given how the Mac Pro used to be the king of the hill in performance machines, the present iteration is a sad reminder at just how far Apple has fallen in the desktop arena.
- The Mac Mini is an orphaned desktop product that still Apple can’t decide whether to keep or kill off. This statement remains true from my last post; the Mini keeps limping along with minor performance tweaks and improvements, but is given nothing to really make it worth purchasing for more than light word-processing, email, and web surfing. My mother-in-law still has hers, but rarely uses it; the same applies to the Mini I was going to use as a headless file server at home, which — instead — will be sold in the upcoming months.
Servers: This product line is still dead, Jim. What exists of OS X Server (if you can even call it that anymore) is just a series of apps that can be installed on top of the consumer-grade OS X operating system (complete with all the tightly integrated social media crap that should never be installed upon a dedicated business file server). Stick with UNIX, Linux, or the newer versions of Windows Server product line instead, as Apple conceded the enterprise space to its competitors long ago.
iPhones: The 2016 products are the iPhone 7/7 Plus, which are both iterative improvements over the earlier 2015 iPhone 6S/6S Plus, which are both iterative improvements over the earlier 2014 iPhone 6/6 Plus. That’s three years of basically the same phone chassis, people!
Apple tried to make the new offerings appealing this year with lots of fancy buzzwords and new finishes to entice those buyers that like shiny baubles, but — seriously — they really didn’t offer up anything really significant.
The fanbois raging about the loss of the headphone jack? Spare me. All iPhones and iPods have been able to play audio and recharge via a dock connection since at least 2004 (read more about it here). Apple is simply eliminating one more legacy component from their hardware build punch-list — something they have a long history of doing with all of their products. “Courage”, my foot.
The new double-camera on the 7 Plus? Well, by Apple’s own admission, the software to use the cameras together as intended won’t initially be shipping with the phones… so expect some teething problems until the technology matures (and read about another camera doing the same thing, but a lot more aggressively here). And where is RAW support? Seriously… now THIS would be a game-changer! I’ve heard through the grapevine that Apple has tested RAW support on iOS devices for the past year or more, but I still have yet to hear when they will actually release it as a consumer product (iOS 10 maybe?).
All of this points to the iPhone 8/8 Plus as being the next big update to the product line, so just skip the 7/7 Plus if you can manage it.
The one real benefit to using Apple as your smart phone provider of choice is… security. At least for now. Microsoft has fallen on their face with their mobile device product line and has pretty much withdrawn completely from the market as of this writing. Android can be an excellent alternative, but only if you buy the devices offered by Google; all the rest have various levels of bloatware on them and can have significant security risks due to all the different versions of the operating system each vendor offers (but rarely updates).
We have chosen to stay with the iPhone for now… but we’ll continue to keep up with what the other platforms are doing, just to hedge our future bets if need be.
Cautionary note: Be sure to include AppleCare with the purchase of your iOS or OS X device. I don’t know if it’s the incredible complexity of these tiny (or not so tiny) computers, spotty quality control, the devices being fragile, or a combination of all three — but we have had repeated hardware failures with our devices and have had to replace them… sometimes several within a short period. For us, AppleCare has been nothing short of miraculous, as we would have been put under extreme financial duress if we had paid for each separate replacement device. Here is the breakdown of our hardware replacements:
- Two iPhone 3GS (zero failures)
- One iPhone 4 (two failures)
- Two iPhone 4S (zero failures)
- One iPhone 5 (one failure)
- Two iPhone 5S (three failures)
- One iPhone 6 Plus (one failure)
- Two iPhone 6S (two failures)
- One iPad (zero failures)
- One iPad Air (one failure)
- One iPad Mini 3 (one failure)
- Two MacBook Pro — 1st gen. (two failures)
- Two MacBook Pro — 3rd gen (zero failures)
As you can see, the odds for us having a hardware failure have been very high — so AppleCare has more than paid for itself in our case. Highly recommended.
iPads: The latest iPad product line refresh from Apple was basically cosmetic and without any significant new capabilities; even the new iPad Pro was a disappointment, as it can only run iOS apps and not the full-blown desktop applications of OS X. However, the iPad remains the premier content-consumption tablet in the marketplace… so at least it has that going for it.
I have to admit — even though my iPad mini 4 is a lot heavier than the Kindle Voyage, I prefer the user experience via the Kindle app on the iPad a lot more — so the iPad has become my de facto tablet of choice and will likely stay that way.
iPods: Dunno about you, but it looks like Apple has forgotten about them (they’re still using the old A8 chip, for crying out loud!) or is about to kill the line off, as they haven’t been refreshed in a long time, are gone as a headline product from their website and within the Apple Stores, and the highest-capacity version has vanished altogether. Competition? Just about any other phone or music player on the market these days.
However, my dream device pairing would be to have a current-size iPod Touch (with a bigger battery and native GPS-support), the current iPhone 7 Plus processor, and double-camera specs (but without the cellular capabilities), then use a separate dumb phone for calls. Why? Because I really prefer the smaller form-factor of the iPod Touch and would like to carry the devices differently than they are now.
The Apple Watch: Apple actually did bring this product to market, but it has all the same flaws as the other smart watches on the market — namely an appalling battery life and limited functionality, especially considering just how expensive they are. I have found it to be quite interesting to see just how fast they disappeared from the wrists of Apple employees and customers alike.
Apple doesn’t like to admit that they made a mistake, so I expect this to stay on the market for several years — or at least until “the next big thing” appears on the scene. Will the Watch ever make it as “mainstream success”? Doubtful, unless they finally figure out a way to produce them as a Betavoltiac device.
Apple TV: So much for the “revolution” Apple was going to spark with their new product here… it’s really just another iterative improvement over the earlier version. We skipped it entirely and went with the Amazon Fire TV — at a fraction of the cost.
That’s it for the hardware, now… onto the software:
OS X El Capitan: A major improvement over Yosemite, the newer El Capitan is far more stable and reliable — the difference is like night and day. But don’t blink, because macOS Sierra (yes, OS X is being renamed macOS) is due out on September 20 — which will probably bring another round of teeth-gnashing and hair-pulling until Apple gets the flaws patched and updated.
Please note: Windows 10 is producing some serious issues for some (but not all) enterprise and consumer customers, so don’t think that simply jumping over to a PC will automagically fix some problems you may be having with Mac systems. However, there have been a number of independent tech reports that point out Windows machines can be significantly faster than similarly configured Macs, so that’s something to bear in mind the next time you replace your hardware.
iOS 9: The iOS user interface is seriously showing its age. Have you seen the mobile device operating systems from Google and Microsoft? I’ll just leave it at that.
iTunes: Wow. Just… wow. iTunes hasn’t changed much for most of the past decade, but it has been tasked to deal with more and more of the Apple media universe — music, videos, apps, podcasts, books, radio, and iPhone management. A jack of all trades and a master of none. It was great when it first came out, but I go to extreme lengths to avoid using it now.
iCloud: It’s (sort of) convenient for email and iPhone backups, but little more than that. There are many competitors in this space, and they are all leaving Apple in the dust.
Professional applications: You know, like Aperture? Still gone. Or still in the process of being downgraded to work on an iPad.
Seriously, Apple — Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot?
Training and certification: There isn’t any. Pretty much. Think I’m exaggerating? Check out the official training classes available from Apple. For OS X, there are only two classes — OS X Support Essentials for El Capitan and OS X Server Essentials for Yosemite. That’s it — nothing else.
This is even worse than when I first posted about it 18-months ago! I’ve taken both of those classes for earlier versions of OS X and can honestly say that they are good for low-level IT staff to attend, but they fall far short of the training needs for mid-level or high-level IT staff.
Have you seen the list of official Microsoft classes? It numbers in the dozens.
I rest my case.
Enterprise support: This just doesn’t exist with Apple. Period.
Sure, they give lip service — but they’ve finished the transition over to being a consumer-based mobile device company… so they no longer have any real skin in the enterprise game.
And it shows.
Just try getting genuine enterprise support from them these days. Go ahead, we’ll wait. And wait. And wait until the cows come home. And then wait some more.
Aw, the heck with it — good luck with getting that level of support out of Apple.
Cost: Of course, an overview like this wouldn’t be complete without touching upon cost.
Apple has generally been known for being far more costly than the competition. However, there was a time in the mid-2000’s when Apple hardware was very cost competitive with similarly configured hardware from the other PC vendors like Dell, HP, and the other usual suspects. However, those days are long gone.
I recently had to replace my wife’s laptop (a five-year-old MacBook Pro) and came back to her with a choice — she could have either a new $2,799 MacBook Pro with all the specs she wanted, or a new $899 Toshiba laptop from Costco that had identical specs as the MacBook Pro, plus a touch screen. She decided the Apple tax simply wasn’t worth it anymore and chose the cheaper Toshiba computer instead.
So there you have it — my updated personal view detailing why Apple has jumped the shark, backed up with many years of in-the-trenches professional experience.